PositiveUSA TodayThis narrative structure, reminiscent of A.S. Byatt’s Possession, allows the author to explore both sides of the timeline: researchers tracking clues to learn about a vanished people as well as the adventures of those living in the earlier epoch ... The Last Neanderthal is most compelling in the chapters where Girl strives to find enough food for her and Runt to stay alive as they search for others, all the while fending off attacks by bear or cougar...But Rosamund’s main conflict, whether the museum funding her dig will override her scientific bias for a glitzy big show, is less interesting because the stakes seem much lower in comparison.
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird LaneLisa See
PositiveUSA TodayFans of the best-selling Snow Flower and the Secret Fan will find much to admire in The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, as both books closely illuminate stories of women’s struggles and solidarity in minority-ethnic and rural Chinese cultures. At times the author’s research strains Tea Girl, weighing the story down with a fair amount of minutely detailed tea production methods. But in rendering the complex pain and joy of the mother-daughter bond, Lisa See makes this novel — dedicated to her own mother, author Carolyn See, who died last year — a deeply emotional and satisfying read.
A Piece of the WorldChristina Baker Kline
PositiveUSA TodayPerhaps the novel's most dramatic plot has to do with a Harvard student who romances Christina on his summer vacations. Limited by poverty and her disability, Christina's world occurs mostly in her mind, and stubborn New England pride leads her to refuse a wheelchair or other aids, meaning that she literally crawls from place to place ... Avoiding sentimental uplift, A Piece of the World offers unsparing insight into the real woman behind the painting.
In the Great Green RoomAmy Gary
PositiveUSA TodayDespite her phenomenal success with multiple children’s books, as well as songs, poems and essays, Margaret Wise Brown never stopped trying — and failing — to write for adults. This painful disappointment needs more exploration, as we don’t learn much about these works or their problems. Gary also shortchanges the lifelong effects of Brown’s troubled connection to her family, especially problematic since it was the discovery of a trove of works kept by Brown’s sister that prompted this biography. Though her life was cut short by illness (she died in 1952 at age 42), Margaret Wise Brown’s story reads as a stirring evocation of a woman who insisted on freedom in her art and in her love life.
The Wangs vs. the WorldJade Chang
PositiveUSA Today...not your parents’ immigration novel ... Chang’s lively portrayal of this sibling trio — spoiled, funny and loyal — is one of the novel’s most appealing aspects. If the middle section of the book drags a bit, this sharply comic novel is still more than worth it. When the Wangs take on the world, we all benefit.
PositiveUSA Todayt’s impossible not to root for Shelby Richmond, the broken, good-hearted young woman at the center of Alice Hoffman’s poignant new novel ... Hoffman exercises characteristic strengths — a wide cast of quirky, believable characters, sly humor, and a clear love for the American teenager ... A few plot points push the novel toward a cloying winsomeness — too many animal rescues, too much Chinese food delivery — but the high stakes of Shelby’s recovery cut through with redeeming sharpness.
Where the Past BeginsAmy Tan
PositiveUSA TodayNot all of the book’s material works: Several shorter digressions, labeled 'quirks,' come off more as disconnected filler than meaningful pieces of a larger project. And at times some repetition across the essays creates frustration rather than the recursive meditation that may have been intended.
Such minor detractions hardly mar the overall power of this richly varied, thought-provoking book. Where the Past Begins will surely gratify Tan’s many fans, and likely win her numerous new ones.
Manhattan BeachJennifer Egan
MixedThe RumpusWhile Goon Squad makes memorable use of striking formal experimentation, the more traditional storytelling in Manhattan Beach is no less compelling an investigation into fate and freedom … A few scenes—particularly one off-the-books dive—strain credibility, and threaten to pull us out of the fictive dream. In the last third of the novel, Anna’s home life obligations ease up with a suddenness that feels mainly convenient. But the aching final decisions she makes ring true to her character in that era. Everyone, no matter how strong or independent, is subject to forces like war, or time, or the claims of family.
Manhattan BeachJennifer Egan
RaveThe RumpusManhattan Beach widens into a fascinating portrait of this legendary war-time shipyard, where thousands of workers strained to build and launch the destroyers that could beat back the German U-boats. For the first time, women joined the industrial effort, working side by side with men in jobs they had never been allowed to hold. They stand in long lines to give blood, they buy boxed lunches at the canteen for forty cents, and they labor behind gloves and face shields … Egan thoroughly details the mob subculture, with its bone-deep ‘Wops’ versus ‘Micks’ hatreds, and although this is familiar material from movies, she makes it sting when it counts. The more Anna wants to know about her father, the more she has to be willing to get close to ugly sources of (male) power.